Attorney: Drilling ban is a precaution

PARKERSBURG – An attorney with the West Virginia Division of Highways says a proposed ordinance that would ban drilling in an area of Mineral Wells near West Virginia 14 and the I-77 exit is just precautionary.

The proposed ordinance is now before the Wood County Commission and has tentatively been set for a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. March 10 in the commission’s second-floor courthouse office. The proposal would restrict future drilling/extraction of groundwater at the site and property near the site viewed as an additional protected area.

“When the tanks were pulled up, leaks were detected; there may have been leaks people were not aware of in the past; there could have been some leaks from surrounding tanks as well. At any rate, we have contained the leaks that were on the property we own,” said Lisa Balderson, attorney with the DOH.

“As the state addresses contamination on our property we entered the site into the Uniform Environmental Covenant Act Program with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which requires extensive testing to find out what is there, specifically where it is located and the levels, and to demonstrate if it remains in place it will not cause harm to anyone potentially exposed,” Balderson said.

As part of the DEP regulations, no one would be permitted to ever drill there.

“That would be an exposure at that point,” Balderson said, noting it was at that juncture she contacted Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton about the need for the ordinance that would restrict drilling there in the future.

Balderson said she wasn’t sure if this has ever occurred before in Wood County, but noted it has occurred in South Charleston, Charleston and Harrison County.

“It tends to happen in areas that are already developed and usually already have a water source so there’s no reason for additional drilling; this just provides extra protection,” she said of the ordinance.

The DOH owns the property in question, the site of the former Stewarts Oil gas station/convenience store near West Virginia 14 at the Mineral Wells exit of I-77, and surrounding rights of way.

“We own all the way up the entry ramp, along the roadway; it encompasses only commercial properties,” she said.

Balderson said there is no evidence the contamination has spread, but the area included in the proposed ordinance is well outside the area where the contaminates were detected.

“It’s a safety buffer,” Balderson said.

Balderson said the DOH is prepared to come to the public hearing and can bring consultants as well to answer any questions officials might have about the ordinance or the situation.

“It’s really just a run of the mill site; this just ensures it will be more protected,” Balderson said.

A map of the affected area will be available in the county administrator’s office for property owners to view. The administrator’s office is on the second floor in the courthouse; hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.